After the Election

"Make America Great Again" yard sign

Tomorrow, Americans will decide whether they want to install a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. It will be a dispiriting day to cap a shameful election season.

And then the next day will come, and we’ll have a crook or a fool as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world and you and I will still have our family and our church and our job and our little place in the world, and things will go along very much as they were.

Everyone swears that this election is the most important in our lifetime (as they swore in 2012, and 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and most elections since roughly 1800). The contrarian in me wants to agree with David Harsanyi that this is the least important election in our lifetime, but the truth most likely lies somewhere in between. As with the rest of life, we will know the election’s true import only in hindsight and only partially.

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North Carolina Voter Guide for 2016

Voting sign

It seems like every election someone asks me to write a voter guide, so I finally decided to put one together this year. Since I and many of my readers live in North Carolina, I’ll be focusing on statewide races at both the federal and state levels. Even if you are choosing to abstain from supporting either major-party presidential candidate, as I am, voting in down-ballot races is a very important way to shape our legal system and seek the best interests of our neighbors. At the state level, races for governor, lieutenant governor, judges, etc. have very real effects on areas like education, law enforcement, and taxes, while, at the federal level, having solid representatives in the Senate and House is one critical way to rein in whichever presidential candidate we end up with.

Since I write on both theology and politics, I ought to take a moment here to make an important distinction. What follows is not intended to be a guide to how a Christian “has to vote.” As Christians, we each have a responsibility to wisely and prayerfully consider biblical principles in combination with practical experience in order to determine how we ought to exercise the little bit of political power which is our vote. Personally, I believe that limited government, rule of law, and free markets are the best way to achieve the good of my neighbor, so I describe myself as politically conservative and I usually end up voting Republican. But I try to make sure my political loyalties are conclusions I reach, not premises from which I start. If you have similar political views, I hope you’ll find this guide useful.

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The Presidential Election Is Not a Binary Choice

Clinton and Trump faces

In honor of Monday night’s presidential debate, about which I shared a few thoughts here, I wanted to consider a common argument for voting for Donald Trump. (It actually works equally well as a case for voting for Hillary Clinton if you’re a liberal, but being on the conservative side of things I personally hear it being used to argue for voting for Trump.) It is the idea of the “binary choice”: If you are not voting for X, that effectively means you are voting for Y. If you are a conservative, not voting for Trump is the same as voting for Hillary. If you are a liberal, not voting for Hillary is the same as voting for Trump.

Since I am politically conservative and agree that Trump would probably be a “less bad” president than Clinton, the binary-choice argument is somewhat compelling. However, ultimately it has a fatal flaw.

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Denying Sin and Rejecting Facts Left Us with Baskets of Deplorables

That's racist

A week ago, Hillary Clinton set political alarm bells ringing by consigning “half of Trump’s supporters” to “the basket of deplorables” in what was either a monumental gaffe or a brilliant strategic coup, depending on who you ask. (Time will doubtless tell, but he hasn’t yet.) Less discussed was the second half of her quote, as she elaborated on the nature of the “deplorables”: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic…”

Personally, I liked the quote. It was neither gracious nor accurate, but the imagery is perfect. For many on the political left, these assorted phobias and ugly -isms function exactly as Clinton described—a basket into which any unwelcome sentiments can be cast and ignored. Worried about the potential of unlimited immigration to change Western culture? You’re a xenophobe. See some value in the definition of marriage which has been assumed for thousands of years? You’re homophobic. When “That’s racist” is a joke in high schools across the country, it may be a sign that your favorite condemnatory labels have been a bit overused.

Which is a pity, because racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia really do exist; are even, in fact, bigger problems than many on the right might like to admit. But instead of serving a useful purpose by calling out true wrongs, these labels and those who use them often just muddy the waters. The reason our phobias and isms are so imprecise and overused is because we have jettisoned the two most necessary criteria for moral condemnation: the categories of sin and objective fact.

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This Election Would Matter Less If We Respected the Law More

The Constitution

On both the left and the right, the 2016 election is promising to be the most intense, passionate, and fearful in recent memory—which is saying something, because the sense of potential catastrophe and dangerously high stakes seems to grow with each new election. Every four years, both sides dread the possibility that the other will get hold of the levers of presidential power, with their potential to massively shape economics, immigration, education, foreign policy, the courts, and a thousand other things. It feels as if we have quadrennial mini-revolutions, as conservatives and liberals skirmish over who gets to set the course for our nation.

To some extent, this political tension and conflict are an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. No system is perfect, and democracy’s regular elections stir up partisanship and politicization in a way that a more authoritarian system (for all its other faults) would not. But our fraught elections aren’t just the fruit of democracy; they are what happens when a democracy forgets the importance of the rule of law.

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Never Trump. Never Clinton. Never Despair.

Trump and Clintons

You may have noticed I’m not a huge fan of either of the major-party presidential candidates this year. It’s always tempting to shout “Worst ever!” but a strong case could be made that this year’s election really does feature the most toxic combination of options in American history. And you should care about that whether or you are naturally “political,” because the presidency influences the country in a thousand ways, from the policies that are made to the example that is set.

That’s why I created a petition on Saturday in a last-ditch effort to give American voters an option other than Trump v. Clinton. I’ll tell you more about that in a moment, because I really hope you will go sign it and share it with your friends. But first, I want to share why I am not worried about the fate of that petition, nor about the outcome of the presidential election. There is a broader principle here that is helpful when dealing with the setbacks that come with being “in the world, but not of it.”

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#NeverTrump, now more than ever

So, what now?

After Donald Trump’s commanding win in Indiana last night, Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign and there is essentially no doubt left that Trump will be the Republican nominee. According to polling, a substantial portion of the Republican base says they won’t vote for him, but the “party unity” drumbeat is already beginning, with the spectre of President Hillary Clinton to add urgency to the appeal. Particularly with Supreme Court nominations at stake, it will be terribly tempting to give in and check the box for Trump, hoping against hope that the unpredictable showman will end up being at least a bit less bad than the pathologically dishonest liberal. However, despite the pull of a grudging, desperate “anyone but Hillary” vote, there is every reason, both moral and strategic, to remain #NeverTrump through November 8.

The Moral Case For #NeverTrump

I get the logic of voting for the least-bad candidate. That’s why I reluctantly voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and reluctantly voted for John McCain in 2008. But in some contests the least-bad candidate is still too bad to support in good conscience. In an election between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who would you vote for? A strategic vote against the other guy is still a vote for someone to lead your country and your fellow citizens; you’re still helping to put someone into office. In a small way, you are responsible for whatever that leader does in the office you chose them for.

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